Commentary Magazine


Topic: mental illness

The Mentally Ill Don’t Have Motives

Last week local papers in New York City were captivated by yet another senseless killing. A 46-year old Indian immigrant, Sunando Sen, was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train was pulling into the station by a woman standing nearby. He was killed by the collision and initially, the woman, with whom he had not visibly communicated in any way, fled the scene. The city was left asking what many communities affected by senseless violence ask: Why?

Interviews with police after the perpetrator’s capture indicated that she harbored hatred toward Muslims and Indians since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Immediately the fingers of blame settled on Pamela Geller, the creator and funder of controversial subway ads about Muslims earlier this year. Her detractors called them incendiary and warned of potential violence; this incident was the moment they were waiting for–a chance to say “I told you so.” And they did.

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Last week local papers in New York City were captivated by yet another senseless killing. A 46-year old Indian immigrant, Sunando Sen, was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train was pulling into the station by a woman standing nearby. He was killed by the collision and initially, the woman, with whom he had not visibly communicated in any way, fled the scene. The city was left asking what many communities affected by senseless violence ask: Why?

Interviews with police after the perpetrator’s capture indicated that she harbored hatred toward Muslims and Indians since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Immediately the fingers of blame settled on Pamela Geller, the creator and funder of controversial subway ads about Muslims earlier this year. Her detractors called them incendiary and warned of potential violence; this incident was the moment they were waiting for–a chance to say “I told you so.” And they did.

While hatred of any large group after the destructive actions of few is irrational, the perpetrator’s hatred of Indians and Hindus is especially illogical–members of neither group were involved in the attacks. The Indian people have been recent victims of terror themselves and have assisted the U.S. government in the war on terror, especially after the attacks in Mumbai. The perpetrator’s motive in this instance show just how random and irrational the attack was.

Before pushing Mr. Sen to his death, the perpetrator had been seen nearby on the platform muttering to herself. This is characteristic of many recent such incidents. Instead of shock and surprise, many of the people familiar with the suspects in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech and the Gabby Giffords shooting (to name a few) described ticking time bombs. They discuss how “creepy” they found these murderers beforehand, with some going to great lengths to avoid and report the suspects. (Two female Virginia Tech students reported the shooter’s behavior to the university the year before the shootings, and one of his professors removed him from her class in order to provide private tutoring away from other students.) What all of these murderers seemed to have in common beforehand were signs, and even diagnoses, of severe mental illness.

In a landmark decision in 1975 the Supreme Court ruled against involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill, stating, “A finding of ‘mental illness’ alone cannot justify a State’s locking a person up against his will and keeping him indefinitely in simple custodial confinement… In short, a state cannot constitutionally confine without more a nondangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.” After the latest subway shoving incident, the New York Post published a story about the estimated 11,000 homeless “psychotics” currently on the streets, more than 3,000 of whom may have violent tendencies. 

In one Manhattan neighborhood a homeless man spends the majority of his time standing in the subway entrance walkways of a few stations, with his fingers in his ears, talking to voices only he can hear. In the winter months when temperatures dip below freezing, he is still there, wearing a ratty t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. The only time I’ve seen him wearing a winter coat was in the middle of the summer last year. I have placed multiple calls to 9-1-1 to report his presence and lack of appropriate winter attire, yet he remains in the subway entrances day after day. While he doesn’t appear to be a threat to anyone but himself, his lack of weather-appropriate attire indicates an inability to care for himself adequately. To the untrained eye, it appears this gentleman is suffering from schizophrenia and is in no way living in “freedom,” but rather is a prisoner of his own mind and the voices that bombard it daily. The New York Post explained steps that could be taken within New York State to offer treatment to its mentally ill homeless population:

Jaffe [D.J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization] said steps must be taken to strengthen Kendra’s Law — a loophole-ridden 1999 measure intended to allow courts to forcibly treat the dangerously unhinged.

“We want mandatory evaluations of all mentally ill who are being released from jails, prisons or involuntary hospitalizations,” he said.

Even Andrew Goldstein, the schizophrenic man who shoved Kendra Webdale to her death in front of a train in 1999, is calling for tougher laws — to keep nuts like himself off the street.

“There should be stricter regulations,” he told The Post in his first-ever jailhouse interview.

If we want to put an end to these senseless tragedies, it’s time for the media to stop breathlessly analyzing the “motives” of the insane while splashing their names and faces across the front pages (I have purposefully not used the names of any of the murderers here). This latest subway pusher didn’t kill Mr. Sen because he was Hindu; Gabby Giffords’s shooter wasn’t reacting to a slight from the congresswoman; and the Aurora movie theater killer wasn’t motivated by violence in the “Batman” series. Those suffering from mental illness are not able to form appropriate responses to real or imagined situations. As a society, it’s time to start asking ourselves what we are doing to prevent tragedies like this in the future, and any solution has to include a more comprehensive and coherent treatment plan for our mentally ill.

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Why Nothing Can Be Done About Shootings

When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

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When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

The impulse to politicize the non-political is not limited to the left. Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said the tragedy was the product of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” No doubt that is something that many who worry about the direction of the country think whenever anything bad happens. Indeed, Gohmert’s statement recalls Newt Gingrich’s belief that Susan Smith’s murder of her two children in 1994 was the result of a sick society that could be cured by more people voting Republican. Liberals rightly mock such claims but that doesn’t stop them from riding their own favorite hobbyhorses when tragedy strikes.

If, as Politico rightly pointed out on Friday, that “nothing can be done” about such events, it is not really because of the power of the National Rifle Association but because the assumption that there is a political answer to every question is a fallacy. Many liberals may believe that it is only the evil gun lobby that enables the insane to do insane things while some conservatives may think it is the breakdown of civilization caused by liberalism. Politics and government are not the solution to everything. Senseless violence is just that. But discussing mental illness does not advance the cause of neither the left nor the right. So we are left after anything terrible happens listening to the same tired clichés about guns and liberals. The best that can be said about all of this is that the American people are far too sensible to be influenced by the sort of vapid commentary that we have been subjected to in the aftermath of Aurora.

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Krauthammer on Krugman

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

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Why the Arizona Massacre Is Fodder for Liberal Attacks

Even before most of the country had even learned the facts of the Arizona massacre on Saturday, the headline on the homepage of the New York Times website proclaimed that “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions,” even though the publication of this story preceded most of the accusations of conservative responsibility for the attack that were soon heard on the left. In other words, the Times and other media outlets that immediately adopted this frame of reference for viewing the massacre were shaping the discussion about the event more than they were actually reporting it.

In the days since then, the evidence for any political motivation that could be attached to Loughner has been shown to be completely lacking. His bizarre behavior and beliefs are the stuff that speaks of mental illness, not overheated politics. But that did not stop the avalanche of libelous accusations of ultimate conservative responsibility.

To seize upon just one of the most egregious examples, the Times’s Paul Krugman claimed today that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “Climate of Hate” created by conservatives. Yes, this is the same columnist who wrote in 2009 that progressives should “hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of his opposition (albeit temporary) to ObamaCare. But just as those who accuse conservatives of spewing hate that leads to violence ignore the daily provocations of TV talkers like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, just as they ignored the unprecedented hate directed at President Bush, the Times Nobel Laureate thinks his own direct call for violence against Lieberman also doesn’t count.

Even worse, the facts about Loughner have not deterred the news departments of these media giants — as opposed to the opinion-slingers like Krugman — from reporting the story as one in which the right is guilty until proven innocent. For example, this afternoon the Times published a story that centered on the charge that conservative talk-show hosts were put in the dock as accessories to the crime while they “reject blame.” The same day, Politico led off with a story that claimed that the “Tucson shooting marks turning point for Sarah Palin,” which took it as a given that the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s future political career would forever be tainted by the Arizona shooting in spite of the fact that she had nothing to do with it. Read More

Even before most of the country had even learned the facts of the Arizona massacre on Saturday, the headline on the homepage of the New York Times website proclaimed that “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions,” even though the publication of this story preceded most of the accusations of conservative responsibility for the attack that were soon heard on the left. In other words, the Times and other media outlets that immediately adopted this frame of reference for viewing the massacre were shaping the discussion about the event more than they were actually reporting it.

In the days since then, the evidence for any political motivation that could be attached to Loughner has been shown to be completely lacking. His bizarre behavior and beliefs are the stuff that speaks of mental illness, not overheated politics. But that did not stop the avalanche of libelous accusations of ultimate conservative responsibility.

To seize upon just one of the most egregious examples, the Times’s Paul Krugman claimed today that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “Climate of Hate” created by conservatives. Yes, this is the same columnist who wrote in 2009 that progressives should “hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of his opposition (albeit temporary) to ObamaCare. But just as those who accuse conservatives of spewing hate that leads to violence ignore the daily provocations of TV talkers like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, just as they ignored the unprecedented hate directed at President Bush, the Times Nobel Laureate thinks his own direct call for violence against Lieberman also doesn’t count.

Even worse, the facts about Loughner have not deterred the news departments of these media giants — as opposed to the opinion-slingers like Krugman — from reporting the story as one in which the right is guilty until proven innocent. For example, this afternoon the Times published a story that centered on the charge that conservative talk-show hosts were put in the dock as accessories to the crime while they “reject blame.” The same day, Politico led off with a story that claimed that the “Tucson shooting marks turning point for Sarah Palin,” which took it as a given that the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s future political career would forever be tainted by the Arizona shooting in spite of the fact that she had nothing to do with it.

In the face of such deliberate distortions, we are forced to ask ourselves what lies behind these editorial decisions. The answer is fairly simple. The reason the editors of the Times and Politico have chosen to slant the reporting of the massacre in this fashion is that it reflects their own politically biased views about conservatives. They didn’t wait for some proof of Loughner’s political motivations to allege that, in some inchoate way, right-wing views influenced his criminally insane behavior and that conservatives would have to pay a political price simply because that was their immediate assumption. That is, after all, how liberal media elites think of conservatives. Indeed, if you read only the New York Times, the results of the November election would have come as a shock because the Gray Lady and other liberal-establishment forums consistently represented those protesters as a marginal outcropping of crazed extremists, not a genuinely grass-roots popular movement that expressed the anger of a large percentage of Americans about the excesses of both the Obama administration and the liberal Congress that stuffed an unpopular health-care bill down the throat of the country.

For the past two years, many newspapers and broadcast outlets attempted to falsely portray the Tea Party as a hate group that has uniquely debased the tenor of political debate in the country. So it should not surprise us that the same people are today trying to forge a fictitious link between Loughner and Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party.

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.’” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.’” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.’” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.’” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Multilateralism flops again: “President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.” Apparently, Obama has once again not been able, by the mere force of his presence, to move other nations to do what they’d rather not.

In case you thought U.S. prisons were a good place for terrorists: “Ten months before Al Qaeda in 2001 struck a deathblow in the heart lower Manhattan, one of the terrorist group’s founding members plunged a sharpened comb through [Louis] Pepe’s left eye and into his brain, blinding the 42-year-old prison guard and causing severe brain injuries that plague him to this day. Pepe told FoxNews.com he worries that sending Mohammed and four of his alleged fellow 9/11 conspirators to New York could compromise the safety of the guards at the MCC prison.”

Lynn Sweet: “About a year ago, thousands jammed Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate Barack Obama’s election to the White House, a communal civic defining moment. But those giddy days are long gone as Democrats in Illinois face the potential of losing the Senate seat President Obama once held next November.”

Another potential consequence of PelosiCare: “By teeing up a public battle over abortion in the health care bill now before the Senate, congressional Democrats could be risking more than just the fate of the legislation. Hanging in the balance are millions of Catholic swing voters who moved decisively to the Democrats in 2008 and who could shift away just as readily in 2010. … ‘There could be political repercussions in the election. It could be harder for the Democrats to keep those Catholics voters they gained and they may put some of their members at risk,’ said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron.”

Chris Caldwell: “The public is increasingly certain that the killings are a case of terrorism. Government and military leaders argue that we must not leap to conclusions, and that we are just as likely to be dealing with a variety of mental illness. A lot hinges on whether we think of Maj. Hasan as a mental case or a soldier of jihad.” It seems that the public is less inclined than the chattering class to buy the psycho-babble explanation.

David Axelrod takes a shot at Mitt Romney for taking a shot at Obama’s inability to make a decision. The White House seems a tad defensive on the topic these days, as well they should be.

James Pinkerton reminds us that we have gotten precious little from the Russians since the “reset,” explaining that “the Russians are not following through on their promise to allow America to establish an aerial supply corridor into Afghanistan. Back in July, they promised to allow up to 4500 flights a year from their territory, to facilitate American logistics for the war effort. So four months later, how many flights have there been? Zero.”

And on his Asia trip, Obama is “confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.” Not a single foreign-policy success to come from all the smart diplomacy, it seems.

The first of many perhaps: “The family of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s decision to try the professed killer of their son, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court. … ‘We are respectful of the legal process, but believe that giving confessed terrorists a worldwide platform to publicize their ideology sends the wrong message to potential terrorists, inviting them, in essence, to resort to violence and cruelty in order to gain publicity.’”

Rep. Pete Hoesktra on the decision to try KSM in New York: “This is ideology run wild. We’re going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We’re now going to rip that wound wide open and it’s going to stay open for, what, two, three, four years as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?” Yup. He explains that we have an alternative: “I would have put him through the military tribunal process. We started that process. They pled guilty. Why won’t the president take guilty for an answer and say now let’s go on to the sentencing phase?”

Multilateralism flops again: “President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.” Apparently, Obama has once again not been able, by the mere force of his presence, to move other nations to do what they’d rather not.

In case you thought U.S. prisons were a good place for terrorists: “Ten months before Al Qaeda in 2001 struck a deathblow in the heart lower Manhattan, one of the terrorist group’s founding members plunged a sharpened comb through [Louis] Pepe’s left eye and into his brain, blinding the 42-year-old prison guard and causing severe brain injuries that plague him to this day. Pepe told FoxNews.com he worries that sending Mohammed and four of his alleged fellow 9/11 conspirators to New York could compromise the safety of the guards at the MCC prison.”

Lynn Sweet: “About a year ago, thousands jammed Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate Barack Obama’s election to the White House, a communal civic defining moment. But those giddy days are long gone as Democrats in Illinois face the potential of losing the Senate seat President Obama once held next November.”

Another potential consequence of PelosiCare: “By teeing up a public battle over abortion in the health care bill now before the Senate, congressional Democrats could be risking more than just the fate of the legislation. Hanging in the balance are millions of Catholic swing voters who moved decisively to the Democrats in 2008 and who could shift away just as readily in 2010. … ‘There could be political repercussions in the election. It could be harder for the Democrats to keep those Catholics voters they gained and they may put some of their members at risk,’ said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron.”

Chris Caldwell: “The public is increasingly certain that the killings are a case of terrorism. Government and military leaders argue that we must not leap to conclusions, and that we are just as likely to be dealing with a variety of mental illness. A lot hinges on whether we think of Maj. Hasan as a mental case or a soldier of jihad.” It seems that the public is less inclined than the chattering class to buy the psycho-babble explanation.

David Axelrod takes a shot at Mitt Romney for taking a shot at Obama’s inability to make a decision. The White House seems a tad defensive on the topic these days, as well they should be.

James Pinkerton reminds us that we have gotten precious little from the Russians since the “reset,” explaining that “the Russians are not following through on their promise to allow America to establish an aerial supply corridor into Afghanistan. Back in July, they promised to allow up to 4500 flights a year from their territory, to facilitate American logistics for the war effort. So four months later, how many flights have there been? Zero.”

And on his Asia trip, Obama is “confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.” Not a single foreign-policy success to come from all the smart diplomacy, it seems.

The first of many perhaps: “The family of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s decision to try the professed killer of their son, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court. … ‘We are respectful of the legal process, but believe that giving confessed terrorists a worldwide platform to publicize their ideology sends the wrong message to potential terrorists, inviting them, in essence, to resort to violence and cruelty in order to gain publicity.’”

Rep. Pete Hoesktra on the decision to try KSM in New York: “This is ideology run wild. We’re going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We’re now going to rip that wound wide open and it’s going to stay open for, what, two, three, four years as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?” Yup. He explains that we have an alternative: “I would have put him through the military tribunal process. We started that process. They pled guilty. Why won’t the president take guilty for an answer and say now let’s go on to the sentencing phase?”

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Bookshelf

• A large-scale retrospective of the paintings and works on paper of Edward Hopper is currently making the rounds of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (where it is up through August 19), Washington’s National Gallery of Art (Sept. 16-Jan. 21, 2008), and the Art Institute of Chicago (Feb. 16-May 11, 2008). Like all Hopper shows, it will be very, very popular. Hopper has long been one of America’s best-loved artists, a painter whose appeal is so broad-based that PBS is actually airing a documentary about his life and work narrated by the comedian-filmmaker Steve Martin—who is, sure enough, a Hopper collector. This popularity has always fascinated me, since Hopper is “accessible” only in the sense that his paintings are unambiguously representational. They are also bleak, private, and unsettling, all to a degree one would scarcely expect in so well-liked an artist.

Walter Wells’s Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper (Phaidon, 264 pp., $69.95) is a coffee-table monograph that has been published just in time to coincide with the new Hopper show. Lavishly illustrated and handsomely printed, it would be pleasing to behold even if Wells had nothing of interest to say about his subject. In fact, he writes observantly and well, which makes Silent Theater a useful pendant to Gail Levin’s detailed but hectoring 1995 biography of Hopper and his long-suffering wife-model. Among other things, Wells goes out of his way to point out that Hopper’s paintings aren’t always quite so grim as advertised: “While it is hard to miss the persistent silence, or the tensions, or the lonely melancholy in Hopper’s pictures, what remains underappreciated, it seems to me, is their occasional drollness.”

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• A large-scale retrospective of the paintings and works on paper of Edward Hopper is currently making the rounds of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (where it is up through August 19), Washington’s National Gallery of Art (Sept. 16-Jan. 21, 2008), and the Art Institute of Chicago (Feb. 16-May 11, 2008). Like all Hopper shows, it will be very, very popular. Hopper has long been one of America’s best-loved artists, a painter whose appeal is so broad-based that PBS is actually airing a documentary about his life and work narrated by the comedian-filmmaker Steve Martin—who is, sure enough, a Hopper collector. This popularity has always fascinated me, since Hopper is “accessible” only in the sense that his paintings are unambiguously representational. They are also bleak, private, and unsettling, all to a degree one would scarcely expect in so well-liked an artist.

Walter Wells’s Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper (Phaidon, 264 pp., $69.95) is a coffee-table monograph that has been published just in time to coincide with the new Hopper show. Lavishly illustrated and handsomely printed, it would be pleasing to behold even if Wells had nothing of interest to say about his subject. In fact, he writes observantly and well, which makes Silent Theater a useful pendant to Gail Levin’s detailed but hectoring 1995 biography of Hopper and his long-suffering wife-model. Among other things, Wells goes out of his way to point out that Hopper’s paintings aren’t always quite so grim as advertised: “While it is hard to miss the persistent silence, or the tensions, or the lonely melancholy in Hopper’s pictures, what remains underappreciated, it seems to me, is their occasional drollness.”

No less convincing is his final verdict on Hopper’s place in the history of American art:

His universals have outlasted his perceived provincialism. Surrealism, abstraction, pop, op—each ism that once seemed to displace “realistic” painting, and hence his own, can, the more closely we look at his images, be found in them as well.

Nicely said.

• Daniel Tammet, the author of Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir (Free Press, 226 pp., $24), suffers—if that is the right word—from savant syndrome, the mental condition that was the subject of the 1988 movie Rain Man. Unlike Raymond Babbitt, the autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Tammet has a “high-functioning” form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome, meaning that he is capable of living on his own, functioning more or less normally, and writing introspectively about his life. Hence this book, one of the most readable first-hand accounts of mental illness to have come my way.

So far as I know, this is the first time that anyone suffering from autism has taken the layman inside the heretofore unimaginably strange world of the autistic savant:

I was born on January 31, 1979—a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number 9 or the sound of loud voices arguing. I like my birth date, because of the way I’m able to visualize most of the numbers in it as smooth and round shapes, similar to pebbles on a beach.

This synesthetic perception of numbers allows Tammet to “handle and calculate huge numbers in [his] head without any conscious effort.” It also places a barrier between him and his fellow men, for his computational gifts go hand-in-hand with a severe impairment of his capacity to experience ordinary emotions:

Numbers are my first language, one I often think and feel in. Emotions can be hard for me to understand or know how to react to, so I often use numbers to help me. If a friend says they feel sad or depressed, I picture myself sitting in the dark hollowness of number 6 to help me experience the same sort of feeling and understand it.

It is fascinating to read of how Tammet converted to Christianity after reading the essays of G.K. Chesterton. Tammet recounts his religious awakening in the same flat, childlike tone with which he describes his virtuosic mathematical skills:

I do not often attend church, because I can become uncomfortable with having lots of people sitting and standing around me. However, on the few occasions when I have been inside a church I have found the experience very interesting and affecting.

Far more vivid, not to mention affecting, is the chapter in which Tammet tells how he memorized and recited the first 22,514 digits of pi (the irrational number that expresses the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle) without making a single mistake:

Why learn a number like pi to so many decimal places? The answer I gave then as I do now is that pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing. Like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.

That last sentence made me catch my breath. Like most aesthetes, I’m largely innocent of the niceties of higher mathematics, but Daniel Tammet has given me a fleeting glimpse of what I think Edna St. Vincent Millay must have meant when she claimed that “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.”

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